POLK COUNTY, Ga. - A mother and 5-year veteran of the Polk County Police Department who was gunned down in the line of duty last week was laid to rest on Tuesday.
The funeral for Detective Kristen Hearne, 29, took place at Victory Baptist Church.
It was the image that brought loved ones and law offers to tears. Little Isaac Hearne, just 3 years old, in his grandmother's arms, an arm's reach away from his mother's flag-draped casket.
It was a painful reminder of what a little boy and really what the entire Polk County community lost the morning of September 29 when Detective Kristen Hearne was fatally shot.
Polk County Police Chief Kenny Todd told mourners Hearne was more like a daughter to him than an officer. Still, she earned his respect and that of her peers as a dedicated detective who never cut corners.
The chief remembered how often Hearne sacrificed time with her husband and son to assist her brothers in blue.
He said she was not wearing a protective vest Friday because she thought she was just responding as backup on a call about a stolen car discovered on Santa Claus Road, unaware of the danger hiding in the woods.
"All they had to do was stay in the woods and no one would have ever known they stole that car. Instead, they chose to engage these officers in gunfire. Kristen wasn't a hero and it's just hard to believe that she died over a car," the Chief said with tears in his eyes.
Hearne was helping a rookie officer on a stolen vehicle call along Santa Claus Road near Parrish Road just before 6 a.m. Police then said a man and woman walked out of the woods. A spokesperson for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said Seth Brandon Spangler, 31, spoke briefly with Hearne and Officer David Goodrich before he unexpectedly opened fire, striking both officers.
"It was more or less an ambush. I mean they come out and surprised these officers and he drew the gun before they even knew what happened,” said Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd just hours after the incident.
The chief said Officer Goodrich was able to fire off a round at Spangler as he and Amanda Ruth, 22, fled the scene, prompting a massive manhunt.
Detective Hearne was in plain clothes and not wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time of the shooting. Chief Dodd said the Goodrich was on scene for quite some time alone before Hearne arrived and there was not a clear need for a vest.
"It’s not common for investigators to wear a vest all the time," said the chief said during a press conference Friday afternoon.
Hearne was rushed to an area hospital, but later died.
"She went on scene to help him assist in recovering the stolen vehicle and lost her life in a tragic incident, for no reason at all," said Chief Dodd.
Ruth was quickly captured, but Spangler eluded capture for most of the day. He eventually walked out of the woods naked around 2:45 p.m. near a group of officers stationed to keep an eye out for him.
Both Spangler and Ruth were booked into the Polk County Jail. Spangler will be charged with felony murder and felony aggravated assault. Ruth also faces numerous felonies.
GBI Spokesperson Vernon Keenan said Spangler was wanted out of Walker County for a felony probation violation and has a long criminal history.
"I don't understand why,” Chief Dodd said fighting back emotions. “This is obviously not his first run-in with the law. I have no idea why he thought it was worth taking the life of a police officer who was just doing her job. I have no words for that. It’s a senseless killing."
Chief Dodd pulled aside his entire staff Friday afternoon to brief them on the loss. This is the first time his department had to deal with the loss of an officer in its 60-year history. The flags at the Polk County Police headquarters were brought down to half-staff late Friday afternoon.
"Words can't express the sorrow and the hurt that we feel right now as an agency. And our hearts go out to the family,” the chief said. “Kristin was the type of officer who lit up any room she was in. You always knew when she was present hardworking, dedicated, she loved her job.”
Hearne graduated from Rockmart High School. She leaves behind a husband, a 3-year-old son, a mother, and a father. Chief Dodd said her husband works for the Aragon Police Department.
"Law enforcement ran in her blood, in her family's blood," said Dodd. "We will do our best as an agency to support this family and support each other during this time."
Chief Dodd said the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and the Cedartown Police Department helped to cover calls in the county while the officers met. He said he was overwhelmed by the support he received Friday from the law enforcement community in Georgia.
“It was incredible the amount of officers that came out to find this man,” said Dodd.”
The chief said he may have to revisit the policy on bullet-proof vests being worn by detectives at all times.